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New Florida laws address sea level, algae, pythons, iguanas

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Florida Ron DeSantis signed a slew of environmental bills in less than 24 hours that address issues ranging from sea level rise to blue-green algae blooms — and even given the state authority to use drones to fight invasive Burmese pythons.

DeSantis signed a 77-page bill Tuesday that will addresses leaky septic tanks, municipal wastewater treatment, stormwater runoff, farm fertilizers and more, as well as a companion measure that will better track sources of pollutants that are blamed for mucking up the state’s waterways.

That comes after he signed a bill late Monday night requiring public coastal construction projects to first be reviewed for impacts on the state’s fragile seashore because of rising sea levels. Among other bills signed Monday is a measure that will ban the sale, trading, bartering, possession or breeding of iguanas, which have become a common sight and scourge in the southern part of Florida.

“A huge component of this is dealing with these wastewater discharges,” DeSantis said of the bill signed Tuesday that was based on recommendations of a task force he formed to address algae blooms.

Algae blooms in Florida rivers and other waterways have killed fish, irritated eyes and have shut down fishing, swimming, boating and other activities in a state where water resources are a huge tourist draw.

The new law seeks to better regulate onsite sewage treatment, upgrade leaky utility water lines and better manage farm fertilizers that wash into state waterways. It also gives the Department of Environmental Protection more authority in managing the issues.

Fines against municipalities for sewage discharges will also be increased.

“Many wastewater treatment systems in Florida are poorly maintained and the network of pipes supporting them have fallen into disrepair,” DeSantis said. “Even relatively moderate rain events can cause a system to be flooded, forcing a discharge of raw sewage into waterways and estuaries.”

Still, some environmentalists think the legislation didn’t go far enough.

Sierra Club lobbyist said in a statement emailed to media that the law “is all promise and no delivery. It preserves the Florida status quo: pretend that the requirements in law are working when they’re not.”

One of the bills DeSantis signed Monday acknowledges that climate change is a growing concern. The new law will require public coastal construction projects to first be reviewed for impacts on the state’s fragile seashore because of rising sea levels.

The signing was hailed by environmentalists as a step in addressing the encroaching ocean in a state with more than 1,300 miles of shoreline and where two-thirds of the 22 million residents live along the coast.

The bipartisan bill DeSantis signed on coastal construction is limited to public projects that rely on state money.

Public construction projects will have to take into account rising sea levels, flooding and the potential for damage to increasingly fragile coasts.

“The delicate relationship between our coastal communities and the environment requires that our Legislature take meaningful steps to ensure that coastal construction be completed with an understanding of sea level rise,” said state Rep. Vance Aloupis, a Miami Republican.

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat who has been wearing rain boots during recent legislative sessions to bring attention to climate change, carried the legislation in the Senate.

“Requiring planning when state taxpayer dollars are spent on infrastructure in the coastal zone is a necessary and long overdue initial step in addressing the impacts of climate,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez has said the measure is another baby step in a political climate that has made it challenging to take quick action on climate change.

A legislative analysis estimated that property values in Florida could sink by more than $300 billion by the end of this century because of rising sea levels.

DeSantis also signed a bill that will allow allow the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Forest Service to fly drones to manage and eradicate invasive species on public lands. Part of the goal is to use new technology to identify pythons from the sky in hopes of helping the fight to hunt them down in the Everglades.

Another new law makes it illegal to possess, import, barter, trade, sell or breed green iguanas and tegu lizards. People who currently have a license to breed the reptiles would be grandfathered in under the bill but could only sell the lizards to customers in other states.

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